Dallas Cops Get First Batch of Body Cams

Sergeant Derek McCarter sports one of the new cams on Tuesday.
Sergeant Derek McCarter sports one of the new cams on Tuesday.
Dallas Police Department

Tuesday, the Dallas Police Department made good on the first part of its plan to roll out 1,000 body cameras over the next five years, announcing that 66 officers in the department's central division began wearing the cameras this week. Additional divisions will be equipped one unit, and one week, at a time. So far, DPD has secured funding for 400 of the cameras, which cost about $400 each.

"The issue is very obvious," Assistant Chief Andrew Acord said. "The public is wanting more transparency from its police departments and obviously the body camera will just add to that. The Dallas Police Department is already very transparent."

DPD has been testing the cameras under a pilot program and letting officers wear their own cameras for some time. The most prominent incident captured by a camera so far was the June 2014 shooting of Jason Harrison. The video of the shooting, which shows Harrison coming toward police with what would later be determined to be a screwdriver, was shown to the grand jury that did not indict Harrison's shooter.

The new cameras, manufactured by stun-gun maker Taser, are available in chest- and lapel-worn models. Cops willing to put up some extra cash may be able to get a version that integrates into sunglasses, Google Glass style, in the future.

DPD body cams will activate whenever an officer wearing one gets out of a squad car. To turn it off, an officer has to hold down a button for several seconds, causing the camera to emit an extended beep. Department regulations require that officers record the vast majority of interactions with the public — basically anything that's not covered by healthcare privacy laws.

Footage shot on the cameras will be available to cops immediately via a mobile device. On that device, the body camera user will be able to view and annotate the footage they've shot. When their shift's over, police dock the camera, and the video is uploaded to cloud storage. If it isn't part of an investigation, footage will be deleted after 90 days.

Most officers getting their cameras Tuesday are volunteers, Acord said, although eight were cops who'd previously had complaints lodged against them. 

This first purchase of cameras was funded by a federal grant. To pay for the remaining 600 cameras the department wants to buy, DPD intends to apply for more federal grants in addition to taking advantage of a newly passed state law that allocated Texas money to pay for 75 percent of the costs of cameras for eligible law enforcement agencies.


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